Coming On Strong

This junior is one of the leaders for a Tiger baseball team that is 27-7 overall and 9-3 in conference play.

Auburn, Ala.--Several players have been key to Auburn's climb towards the top of the SEC standings this season on the baseball diamond. Second baseman Tug Hulett has been outstanding, as has the relief pitching of Cory Dueitt, Levale Speigner and Steven Register, but none have done a better job than third baseman Scott Schade. Known mostly for his defensive work at first base last season after hitting .296, Schade went into the offseason fully prepared to work on his entire game for the 2003 season.

Playing third base, first base and some catcher in summer ball, Schade worked on hitting the ball to the opposite field as well as his defense at the hot corner. The result has been a stellar start to the SEC season for the junior. Hitting .333 overall this season, Schade is 17-38 against Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama in conference play with hits in all nine of those games. He has scored 11 runs during that stretch with five runs batted in.

His play culminated with perhaps his best overall weekend as an Auburn Tiger against rival Alabama. Going 6-12 with two runs scored and two runs batted in during the series, his offensive numbers don't overwhelm you, but when combined with his defense they paint the complete picture. Stopping everything that came his way and turning a huge double play against the Crimson Tide in a key situation, Schade put a stamp on his play against Alabama in helping Auburn to the series win.

"I don't think he could have," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe answered when asked if had seen Schade have a better weekend since he's been at Auburn. "The plays he made on defense, the big at-bats he had, that's as good as it gets. That's an all-star performance. He's coming. He's just getting better and better."

Scott Schade looks on during Sunday's win over Alabama.

The rubber game of the series, Sunday was a blueprint of what this Auburn team has done all season. Trailing 6-3 in the seventh inning the Tigers scored four runs to take the lead and eventually win the game to remain just a half-game behind Mississippi State for the Western Division lead. Schade said that's what he's come to expect from this team after watching and growing with them since last fall.

"It was huge," Schade said. "That's the kind of guys we have. We were kind of asleep the first six innings, but we turned it on and had some game time at-bats. We still left a lot of guys on base--I know I did a couple of times. We played solid defense, which we are going to do, and we pitched great. Levale came in and was awesome and Register was good, too.

"We were having some pretty good at-bats, but a lot of us weren't too," Schade added. "We got together and really pulled through. This was a big win for us."

An area that Schade has improved on is at the plate, where he once was an aspiring power hitter. That all changed over the summer when he made up his mind to be a more complete hitter. Once that transformation took place, Schade said he felt everything fall into place. The results have been noticeable, particularly in the runs scored department. In just 34 games, he's already scored 31 runs this season, two away from his career high. In fact, in 78 less at-bats this season, he has tied his total for runs scored all of last season.

The Tigers will need all the runs they can get when they face the pitching strength of Mississippi State on the road this weekend in Starkville. After fighting through a flu bug that crippled the Tigers for much of the week and kept them off the practice field, Renfroe said they'll have a chance to work out some kinks before traveling to face the Bulldogs in the premier series in the league this weekend.

"You're looking at the best pitching staff in the country probably and we're not swinging it real well, Renfroe said. "We've got to straighten out our starting pitching, so this was huge today.

"We were too sick and banged up," Renfroe said of his plans to work on some things leading up to the Alabama series. "Last week we tried to get them mentally ready. We couldn't use Josh Bell and I know people wondered why. Doc Goodlett (Mike Goodlett) was here and helped him out. He's just different back there. The guys love throwing to him and he's got a great arm and stops the running game. That's a whole dimension and it frees Bobby (Bobby Huddleston) up to swing the bat. This week is going to be our work week."

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